A VETERAN OFFICER OF 1812.
The Story of His Eventful Life - Rev. Dana Bigelow's Remarks -
Long Life but a Point Compared With Eternity –
His Coffin Enveloped in His Country's Flag.
Aaron Stafford of this village, was born March 18, 1787, and died the 6th of September, 1885. He was
born and died on a Sunday; and was five months and twenty-nine days older than the federal constitution.
He was the last survivor of the soldiers of the war of 1812, who was known to have held an officer's commission; the last one before him having died about seven years ago. The first President he voted for
was James Madison, and the last, Grover Cleveland. All the Presidents of the United States were
inaugurated during his life time.
Mr. Stafford's funeral was attended from his late residence last Tuesday, and the services were performed by Rev. R.H. Nelson, Rector of Grace Church, and Rev. Dana W. Bigelow, pastor of the Memorial
Presbyterian Church, of Utica. Mr. Bigelow ever since his boyhood had known Mr. Stafford personally, in whose character there was much that he admired. He delivered the following discourse on the occasion
of his funeral:
But a few months since, a beloved grand-daughter, beautiful in youth, was borne from this house. Today,
in the providence of God, we meet to bear to his last resting place the aged grandfather.
We had thought that Mr. Stafford might live to complete one hundred full years; and while he was
enjoying a comfortable old age, in his own home, infirm but bright in mind, surrounded by those who ministered to his every want, we had earnestly hoped that this expectation might be realized. But an iron constitution yielded at last to bodily infirmities, and he who has been with this village from its settlement, and with this nation from before the day that its first President was inaugurated, has departed this life.
Can we speak of such life as a shadow? Yes, if we compare it with the life to come. We speak of this as
long life, but a century has beginning and end, and the hereafter is eternity, the forever and ever. This measure of time is in truth but a point, and man at his best estate is as but a flower of the field.
Our times are in the hands of One with whom a thousand years are as one day and one day as a thousand years. Shall we not then be again reminded that our days are as a shadow, and there is none abiding? Our days on earth are numbered, and though they be multiplied beyond those of any other person of our generation, yet they will be certainly and soon passed. Blessed be the Lord, our God, that He who has life and immortality, has given his own Son, that we may live by him. The Lord Jesus Christ is the
resurrection and the life, and if on earth we live by faith in Him, in love and obedience, death is but the beginning of time and endless life. We may ask for the blessing of long life, and rejoice if many days are gven us on earth where we may find so much to do and so much to enjoy, but let it be our first and chief thought that under Divine guidance, in following Christ, we may be prepared for the Father's house in Heaven, for life in the presence of the glorified Saviour, and for reunion there with loved ones who have been redeemed unto God, to his own possession and joy, world without end. If, however, we compare on hundred years with the time allotted to nearly all of any generation, how remarkable they appear as the period of one individual life.
When the last century closed, a boy of thirteen years enjoyed a pleasant home across the street from this house where we meet this afternoon. All this part of the village was then the Stafford farm, a place for work, and the field for many sports, for boys of that day loved sport and knew where to find it, as did other boys who followed after in other years. Perhaps it was the memory of his own boyhood that made him so lenient when a man, toward boys who in generation after generation found a playground in his pastures and orchards, and by the stream that wound its was so pleasantly beneath the trees and through the fields of his wide reaching farm. We were never closely watched, never ordered off from the frequented fishing and swimming places, from croquet grounds and training fields. Surely his boyhood must have taught him, that boys are boys and that their sports last none too long.
When 1812 came Aaron Stafford was no longer a boy, but a young man, twenty-five years of age, and ardent lover of his nation, which was of his own age, nearly, not quite. He enlisted for war at the time of his country's need, and proved his valor and spirit of self-sacrifice in conflicts that left him severely wounded. Henceforth he bore in his body the marks of his participation. He gave other proofs of this regard for the welfare of his country. He served the State at one time in the halls of legislation; and when a private citizen, he maintained an intense interest in our history. If he differed from others in judgement at any time, none had reason to question the depth, or the sincerity of his convictions. He was unwavering in his loyalty to his friends. Those who once esteemed him as a friend, found him ever the same, cheerful in spirit and warm in personal friendship. His kindness of heart toward all, made him a man well spoken of and esteemed by tahe whole community. Those who remember his not as an aged man, shut in and ministered to, but the man of strength and of affairs, will expecially affirm the truth of these statements. Another generation has grown to manhood, since Mr. Stafford was very active among the leaders of society.
But in his own home he was best known. He had a worthy wife, who became a dearly loved mother. Children were born, grew to manhood and womanhood, went forth to take their places in the world, with fond memories of the old home, to which they love often to return. They remember him as a father ever thoughtful of their happiness, ever deeply interested in their welfare. Most affectionate, and most grateful for every act of kindness, he appreciated all that was done for his comfort in old age. He lived to witness how great changes were made in this village and this nation, and what overturnings in the world. He lived until his appointed time was come; and after bearing trials in brave and patient spirit, he has passed from among us. His peaceful and pleasant face nay now be looked upon for the last time.
The pall bearers were J.A. Berrill, W.J. Bissell, G.H. Church, M.L. Conger, J.W. Hubbard, E.H. Lamb, A.O. Osborn, Geo. Putnam, F.H. Terry and Charlemange Tower.
The remains were interred in the Waterville Cemetery, near the center of the grounds; he is the oldest person ever buried there. The stone over the grave of his father, Ichabod Stafford, whose grave is in the southwest corner is the oldest stone in the cemetery.
The following interesting sketch was prepared by Aaron Stafford's grandson, Martin H. Stafford of New York:
Aaron Stafford, born March 18, 1787 at Cheshire, Mass., and died at Waterville, N.Y., Sept. 6, at the advanced age of 98 years, 5 months and 18 days, was the second son of Ichabod Stafford by his wife Humility, daughter of James Green, Jr., of Coventry, R.I., and the lineal descendant of Thomas Stafford, one of the colony that settled at Portsmouth and Newport, R.I., in the spring of 1638.
At the close of the Revolution, in which he with four of his brothers had served their country, Ichabod Stafford, with his brother William, and their families, moved from Coventry, R.I., to Lanesboro, Mass., in 1783, and they were soon followed by his father and other members of the Stafford family, and it was here that Aaron Stafford was born soon after Lanesboro was divided and the new town of Cheshire created.
Ichabod Stafford removed to Duanesburgh, N.Y., in 1788, where he resided until the summer of 1793, when with Joseph and Abraham Forbes, with their families, removed to what is now August, Oneida Co., N.Y., being the first white settlers of that town. In 1801 Mr. Stafford having purchased of Nathan Gurney, Bazerial Gurney, his son, and Bincas Owen, all their rights in lot No. 40, in the town of Sangerfield, and what is now the eastern portion of the village of Waterville, removed his family to his new home, and in the following year built a house upon the lot where now stands the residence of Mr. George Putnam. Here Mr. Stafford lived until his death, July 30, 1804. At his death he left a widow and a family of five chi in a new, but rappidly growing country, he had few of the advantages enjoyed by those who were members of older communities, but he improved the advantages that were presented, and few indeed were the boys of his time who could equal him in natural abilities, or who had improved their advantages better than he. At the death of his father he took the most active part in the management of the property that his father had left, at the same time not neglecting to improve his mind.
In 1801 his mother and the other children, of which Aaron Stafford was the third and then in his eighteenth year. Mr. Stafford left his family in comfortable circumstances and the farm was managed for several years by his widow, in which she was assisted by her two eldest sons, but Aaron in particular.
The early years of Aaron Stafford's life were passed much as the life of any boy in his station of life may be supposed to have been passed, without any particular event to distinguish it from those of his companions. The son of a pioneer the other children moved from the house his father had built to a new house they had erected on the opposite side of the road, and Mr. Stafford opened the old home as a public house, which he conducted successfully for two years, but the life was not in many respects pleasant to him and he closed it to devote his time to farming.
Mr. Stafford was engaged in farming when the war of 1812 called the country to arms. He was the first to enlist and call upon the young men of the vicinity to join him. He raised a small company of men, of which he was appointed ensign, and in May, 1812, went to Sacketts Harbor under Col. Marshall Bellinger in First Detachment N.Y. State Militia. When the three months had expired for which they had volunteered, he volunteered to remain and was in service twenty-four days before discharged, the service having been one of garrison duty.
Immediately on his return home he was visited by Major Maynard who, appreciating his ability and courage, offered him the position of adjutant of the 16th Reg. N.Y. Detached Militia commanded by Lieut. Col. Farrand Stranahan. He accepted and at once went to Albany, where he successfully passed the examination and received his commission. After procuring his uniform he joined his regiment at Winfield on Sept. 8, 1812, and the regiment soon after took up its march for the Niagara River and reached Niagara Falls the Friday before the battle of Queenstown Hights. He was soon after dispatched with a company to Buffalo to convey provisions to the army, and executed his difficult commission with so much skill and dispatch as to win the applause of his superior officers.
At sunrise on the morning of October 13, 1812, the main body of the army, under the command of Gen. Winfield Scott, commenced to cross the river, and Stafford was left in command of a detachment to cross after the main body had landed. He followed close after the main body, under fire of the British, landed and commenced to ascend the hights, but had not proceeded but a short distance before they were fired upon by a body of British and Indians, by which several were killed and wounded. Stafford was shot in the shoulder by an Indian, but still kept his horse and passed on at the head of his command, but was soon again shot in the thigh and fell from his horse. Several officers and men who saw him fall supposed him dead, but rushed to the spot to prevent him from being scalped by the Indians, among the number Capt. Felt, who helped to bind up his wounds and assisted to carry him down the hill. but the Americans had lost the day, being outnumbered, and all the wounded, with many others, were taken prisoners. Stafford, with many of the officers and men, were conducted to Ft. George, where they were confined as prisoners of war. Stafford's wounds proved severe and he suffered greatly from want of proper care and attenion, though Dr. Sumner, the British surgeon in charge, did all he could under the circumstances to alleviate the sufferings of those under his care, but particularly of Stafford, who he admired for his high spirit and patient endurance of his wounds, and here was the commencement of a warm personal friendship between them which was only broken by the death of Dr. Sumner many years after.
Stafford, with other officers and men, were paroled after a week's imprisonment, and Dec. 8 he hired a boat to take him across the Niagara River to Black Rock, but nearly lost his life through the blundering of the men who rowed the boat. After a long and painful journey he reached home on Christmas night in a very exhausted state of health, and weeks passed before he was even out of danger.
This terminated his military career, and though promoted to the rank of Major he did not recover from his wounds sufficiently to permit him to again enter the service until the war was over, much to his sorrow, as the martial spirit ran high in his character.
June 26, 1814, he married Harriet, daughter of Zeno Terry, who moved from Enfield, Conn., to Sangerfield, N.Y., being one of the first settlers of that town. He commenced his married life in the house which he had previously purchased from his brother Welcome, which he considerably enlarged and improved and made his residence the remainder of his life. Here he lived in great happiness with his wife for sixty-one years, until her death, April 5, 1875, and here their children were born. Lothrop P.; Mary, wife of Henry T. Utley of Waterville, N.Y.; Harriet, wife of William B. Stafford of New York; Marshall B., and Aaron Jackson. The eldest and youngest died several years before him.
Mr. Stafford was an active man in the community in which he lived, interesting himself in all measures for the advancement and improvement of the town, and though an active member of his political party, labored for its success from principles and not for political advancements. He was repeatedly urged to accept office, but only consented to the use of his name but once. That was in 1833, when the Democrats were very anxious to elect their legislative ticket in his District. The district had become close, and it was generally supposed that the Whigs would win it. Members of the legislature were elected on a general ticket at the time, and not by single districts, as at present, and Mr. Stafford was urged to gon on the ticket to strengthen it, as he was personally very popular with all classes. He accepted the nomination and the ticket was elected, greatly to the surprise of the Whig candidates, who felt so confident of their election that they had engaged their quarters at Albany in anticipation of their sure eleection. Mr. Stafford acquired considerable reputation for the share he had in the victory. Judge Pomeroy Jones of Westmoreland was associated with Mr. Stafford on this legislative ticket and was also elected. A long and sincere friendship existed between them, severed only by the death of Judge Jones about two years ago. Political life had no charms for him, and he took greater pleasure in contributing to a victory than being the recipient ofits fruits.
Mr. Stafford was a farmer, his whole active life being devoted to the cultivation of the soil, in which occupation he was successful, and his farm was one of the largest and best conducted in this section of the country. He and his brothers and sisters owned at one time all the land upon which the eastern portion of the village of Waterville is situated. Both sides of what is now Stafford avenue as far as the old Hooker road was once his farm and where are those yet living who can remember when there were very few houses on that avenue, except the house in which he lived and died, which was built in 1810 by his brother, and purchased by him in 1813, and which has undergone so many changes as to leave but little of the original design recognizable. It was here that he had lived for seventy-one years and died, and all his children were born. He had lived to see a prosperous and beautiful village grow up out of the wilderness, and be surrounded by more people than were to be found in the whole county when he came to it as a boy, for indeed there was no such county as Oneida then, or for several years after. Not a person is now living who remembers him as a boy, or young man; they have all passed away, and like the tall oak that has been spared by the woodman and stands alone, so stood he - the last survivor of the little colony in the wilderness, surrounded by a new generation and a new life. He was not only the oldest person in the town at the time of his death, but the oldest citizen, not only of this town but of any in this section of the state. That is, there is no one known to be living in the county of Oneida, or of Central New York, who came to it as early as he - 1793. He was also the last survivor of the soldiers of 1812 who was known to have held an officer's commission.
In person Mr. Stafford was five feet ten inches in height, of commanding figure, and like his father's family, possessed of great physical strength. In his younger days he carried himself erect, with dignified bearing, and was regarded as a man of prepossessing appearance. Amiable in disposition, of even temper, and proverbial for his kindness of heart, strict integrity and unimpeachable honor, he commanded the respect of all with whom he came in contact. He was very firm in his convictions and bold in expressing his opinions, which were never formed hastily, but after due reflection, and when once formed he held to them with great pertinacity. Deprived of the advantages of an early thorough education beyond what was furnished by the new country in which he lived, he endeavored to repair the deficiency by extensive reading, and few men were better informed, or could converse more intelligently on all subjects of general interest than he. His memory was remarkable, and it was astonishing even in the later years of his life to note with what accuracy he could relate events, accompanied by dates, which one would hardly suppose would have been remembered. Nothing that he had ever seen, heard or read, appears to have been forgotten or worn out of mind. This tenacious memory he inherited from his mother, who was quite as remarkable in this respect as himself. He might truly be said to have been a walking encyclopaedia of events during his life, and many were the disputed questions among his townsmen that were referred to him for decision, and the verdict accepted without dispute. He was never so happy as when entertaining his friends with reminiscences of the past or in conversing on favorite themes. Had Mr. Staffod inclined to public-life, his great popularity, energy and strength of character, combined with a tenacious memory, would have given him great advantages and placed him in high positons, but his modesty was quite equal to his other merits, while his ambition appears to have flown in other channels.